On December 1st, all matters associated with the 2018 World Cup to be hosted in Russia will be finalized. We will know the groups, we will know what our chances are going forward.
This is actually the fun part of the World Cup, the long six month waiting period. The World Cup despite being a month long tournament goes by too fast, these six months preceding the World Cup are to be soaked in, like smelling the cork of a wine bottle. You first need to come to terms that this group is to your liking. Most of the time World Cup Groups are to no one’s liking unless your team happens to be Brazil or Argentina.
In the 1950 World Cup, Uruguay were situated with ONLY Bolivia, making it the greatest group Uruguay were ever put in, Uruguay demonstrated how much they loved that group by scoring 8 goals on Bolivia! But since that tournament, the groups have pretty much determined Uruguay’s fate in the World Cup. The one thing we can agree on when it comes to Group seeding is, you don’t want to be drawn in the Group of Death. From the time most of us could crawl, our fathers have taught us, you don’t want the Group of Death, avoid it like the plague.
The principle theory behind a Group of Death is, all sides are considered good with 2 being very strong but the remaining two can present a problem so they all in effect cancel each other. In other words, the Group of Death becomes a crap-shoot. The Group of Death is something uniquely Uruguayan, Uruguay, which had just emerged from a brutal military dictatorship in 1985, were drawn into the Group of Death in 1986 – so said Omar Borras (Uruguay’s manager at the time) and the phrase has been historically attributed to him. We got West Germany, Denmark and Scotland. While Uruguay survived the Group of Death despite a still horrible loss to Denmark (6-1), Uruguay’s reputation took a hit after a pragmatic draw with Scotland got them through to the second round. It took years for Uruguay to recover, referees never again called a Uruguay game favorably after that match. Tackles, rough-play of any kind were spotted and dealt with quickly. We earned a reputation that still persists to this day, ugly losers or worse, thugs.
In 1990, Argentina were drawn into the Group of Death, Uruguay, then coached by Tabárez, made it out of their group which featured Belgium, Spain and South Korea. But Tabarez’ side were labeled a team of school girls (El Equipo de Señoritas) because they didn’t play with the ruthlessness the ’86 Borras side had shown; Tabárez wasn’t brought back, instead Uruguay’s 1990 exit kick-started the whole Casal era, which then gave us Cubilla and the Expatriates issue, which then gave us two straight qualification failures (1994 & 1998).
In 2002, Argentina once again got the Group of Death and although we didn’t get the Group of Death we were saddled in a group which featured Denmark, Defending World Cup Champion France and Senegal. Uruguay were revealed to be a mess and managed by a clueless coach in Victor Púa, a loss to Denmark and two consecutive draws saw us eliminated in the Group Stage. If it wasn’t the Group of Death, it sure felt like it.
But truth be told, we were drawn “officially” into the Group of Death before – in 1966, we were slotted with England, France and Mexico – we squeaked by but lost infamously to West Germany and when that tournament was over, Ondino Viera (Uruguay’s manager at the time), saw his impressive reputation get flushed down the toilet. That tournament saw “rebeldía” take on a whole different meaning when Uruguayan players wanted to promptly kick Ondino Viera’s ass after he had done much to lower team spirits leading up and during the tournament. Suffice it to say, Ondino Viera did not fly with the team back to Uruguay. And before in 1962 Uruguay were slotted in Group 1, which featured the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Colombia – this group saw Uruguay fall by the wayside. And the group that Uruguay were drawn into in 1974 was no bed of roses (Holland, Sweden & Bulgaria). A Group of Death can become a Group of Death when teams send unprepared sides to a tournament, like Uruguay did in 1962, 1974 & 2002.
FIFA has made things decisively different in recent years, as the following rule demonstrates:
“The principle of drawing the teams into the groups will remain unchanged. Hence, no teams from the same confederation, with the exception of UEFA, which could have up to two teams in the same group, will be drawn into the same group.”
While this protects a Non-European side from being drawn with a nation in their confederation, it still doesn’t protect you from being drawn into the Group of Death. There are arguments to be made that Groups of Death no longer exist, but this is not all together true, you can still earn a ticket to ride right into the Group of Death – a top four UEFA side, a middle of the pack UEFA side and an African Side can still spell a world of trouble. Take for example Group G of the 2014 World Cup, Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States. It depends what team you are in the Group of Death but any weakness will be pounced on in the Group of Death – So Ghana which rode into the Quarterfinals in 2010 World Cup didn’t even make it out of the Group Stage in 2014.
Surviving the Group of Death can sometimes toughen you up, in 1986, three teams made it out of the Group of Death, West Germany, Denmark and Uruguay – but only one made it to the final (West Germany). In 2014, Germany won it all after escaping the Group of Death – The Group of Death is a philosophy really, teams have to be mentally tough going into the World Cup. These six months aren’t to be taken lightly. Qualification is one thing, you just want to go in, but constructing a team to win it all is a whole different animal.
The question is do you want the Group of Death or do you avoid it? The answer is, you really have no choice. Its up to the manager to create a team strong enough to emerge a winner regardless of the group you’ve been drawn into.